City launches water security plan

Cape Town almost experienced Day Zero in April 2018. Picture: Karen Watkins

City officials have outlined a strategy to improve Cape Town’s water security and prevent a replay of the Day Zero crisis.

Dam levels are higher than they’ve been in several years – mostly because Capetonians are still using less water than they did before the Day Zero scare – but, according to Michael Webster, the director of the City’s water and sanitation department, this is the fifth year in a row that Cape Town is getting less rainfall than the long-term average.

Mr Webster was speaking at the launch of the City’s water strategy, held at Cape Town Civic Centre last month.

Mayco member for water and waste services, Xanthea Limberg, says the water strategy – laid bare in a glossy 100-page hard-cover book – is built on five key commitments: safe access to water and sanitation; the wise use of water; sufficient, reliable water from diverse sources; shared benefits from regional water resources; and becoming a “water sensitive city”.

UCT’s Future Water Institute’s Dr Kevin Winter says we cannot predict how long the drought in the Western Cape will last.

Long-term climate change predictions suggest the Western Cape, especially the western region, will become drier, and warmer.

“We’re already seeing signs of this taking place. The public and local-authority response in Cape Town is going to be critical if we are to adapt sufficiently to the challenge.”

Klaudia Schachtschneider, from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), says current extreme droughts and floods in southern Africa show we are already living in “the new normal” and we should continue to save water at every opportunity.

Ms Schachtschneider, who is WWF-SAs water stewardship programme manager, says last season gave us below-average rainfall again, and the only reason the Cape Town water supplies were adequate was the altered water demand and use in the city.

UCT climate scientist Dr Peter Johnston says Cape Town’s drought is over but other parts of the province with summer-rainfall patterns still face disaster.

The drought that almost brought Cape Town to its knees lasted three winters (from 2015 to 2018), but the city has since had two years of normal rainfall in 2018 and 2019 within the normal range, he says.

But he is cautions that water will never be abundant in Cape Town so we should be proactive and use and re-use water sparingly.

According to provincial government figures, dams supplying Cape Town were at 65.9% last week. Water consumption in the city rose to 755 million litres a day from 743 million litres a day the previous week.

In mid-January 2018, former mayor Patricia de Lille raised the spectre of Day Zero, saying the municipal water supply would be shut off if conditions did not
change.

Level 7 water restrictions, Day Zero, would be declared when the water level of the major dams sup-
plying the City reached 13.5% .

Photos of parched-earth dams and residents lining up to collect spring water splashed across international news sites. Scientists classified the drought as a 1 in 590-year event.

But Cape Town dodged Day Zero, although the dams bottomed out at 19% before the rains came.

Ms Limberg says the Day Zero message saw Capetonians cut consumption by almost 60% in world record breaking time.

She says the City received 5.7 million Euros (R93.7 million) from the Federal German Government, through the German Development Bank KfW in December.

Of that amount 1.2 million Euros (R19 million) was allocated for education and training measures in wastewater treatment and 4.5 million Euros (R74 million) for supporting the City in becoming more resource efficient.